The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 10th, 2014

MIT linguists help solve the California drought crisis

Michelle Fullwood, Ryo Masuda, and Ted Levin were at the Berkeley Linguistics Society meeting this weekend. Michelle talked about English verb transitivity and stress (Asymmetric Correlations Between English Verb Transitivity and Stress) and Ryo about Chechen and Ingush verb doubling (Revisiting the phonology and morphosyntax of Chechen and Ingush verb doubling). Ryo and Ted gave a joint presentation about case and agreement in Cupeño (Case and Agreement in Cupeño: Morphology Obscures a Simple Syntax).

The presenters report a particularly wet conference with continuous rainfall throughout the three days. With two inches of rainfall in Berkeley and up to 11 inches in the area, the linguists might take credit for bringing relief to the California drought.

LFRG 2/10 - Wataru Uegaki

Speaker: Wataru Uegaki
Title: Emotive factives and the semantics of question-embedding
Date/Time: Monday, Feb 10, 12:00pm
Room: 66-148

At least since Karttunen (1977), it has been observed that emotive factives such as “surprise”, “amaze” and “annoy” exhibit puzzling embedding behavior. As in (1) below, they embed declaratives and constituent wh-complements, but don’t embed polar questions (PolQs) and alternative questions (AltQs).

(1) a. It is surprising that they served coffee for breakfast. (declarative)
b. It is surprising what they served for breakfast. (constituent question)
c. *It is surprising whether they serve breakfast. (PolQ)
d. *It is surprising whether they served coffee or tea for breakfast. (AltQ)

This fact poses an interesting challenge for the semantics of question-embedding. First of all, since this embedding behavior holds across predicates of similar intuitive semantic class cross-linguistically (e.g., German, French and Japanese), it is desirable if it can be derived from the semantics of these predicates, rather than from idiosyncratic selection restrictions. However, in the standard treatment of question-embedding, where embedded questions are converted to some form of their answer, it is not clear why emotive factives are incompatible with PolQs and AltQs. This is so because there is no semantic anomaly in the predicted truth-conditions of surprise + PolQ/AltQ sentences: ‘x is surprised by the answer of whether p’ or ‘x is surprised by the answer of whether p or q’.

In this talk, I propose a solution to this puzzle employing the independently established distinction between strongly exhaustive and weakly exhaustive readings of questions (Heim 1984; Beck & Rullmann 1999). According to the proposal, a strongly exhaustive reading is ruled out in questions embedded under emotive factives as it would violate a principle similar to Strongest Meaning Hypothesis (Dalrymple et al. 1998). On the other hand, AltQs and PolQs are inherently strongly exhaustive (George 2011, Nicolae 2013), which conflicts with the requirement against strong exhaustivity under the relevant predicates. After giving the detailed account of the embedding behavior of emotive factives, I lay out the general typology of attitude predicates that the proposed view entails, and discuss some open issues.

Phonology Circle 2/10 - Organizational Meeting

Phonology Circle will meet on Mondays at 5pm in 32-D831 this semester. Today’s meeting will be an organizational one to plan the schedule. Please contact Michael Kenstowicz if you cannot attend but would like to reserve a date.

No Syntax Square This Week

There is no Syntax Square meeting this week. Please contact the organizers, Mia Nussbaum and Michelle Yuan, if you would like to present. The following dates are still open: Feb 25, Apr 1, Apr 8, May 6, and May 13.

Ling-Lunch 2/13 - Elena Anagnostopoulou

Speaker: Elena Anagnostopoulou (University of Crete)
Title: Approaching the PCC from German
Date/Time: Thursday Feb. 13, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

“In this talk, I focus on a lesser known/studied case arguably falling under the PCC, namely PCC with weak pronouns, addressing some issues one is confronted with in an attempt to characterize the phenomenon. Based on previous research (Anagnostopoulou 2008), I present evidence that the weak PCC does arise in German, contra Cardinaletti (1999), Haspelmath (2004), under two conditions: (i) The PCC arises only when weak pronouns occur in the Wackernagel position. (ii) In addition, the subject must follow the weak pronoun cluster in order for the effect to become visible. I explore how the weak PCC can be analyzed in German, pointing to some questions concerning a) the relative order of Wackernagel pronouns, and from there to clitics showing the PCC in Romance and to other weak pronouns in Germanic languages and b) the order of the subject relative to the pronouns showing PCC effects.”

ESSL 2/13 - Discussing Kent Johnson’s paper “Gold’s Theorem and cognitive science”

The ESSL will be meeting this Thursday at 5:00 PM in the 8th floor seminar room. We will be having an informal discussion of Kent Johnson’s paper “Gold’s Theorem and cognitive science”. The paper and discussion should appeal to anyone with an interest in language acquisition or learnability. The conversation will be most useful if as many people as possible have read the paper, so if you are interested in participating, please use the Stellar website for the ESSL (https://stellar.mit.edu/S/project/hackl-lab/index.html) for access to this paper, as well as Gold’s original paper. If you are unable to access the Stellar site, please contact Erin Olson, ESSL Lab Manager (ekolson@mit.edu) or Martin Hackl (hackl@mit.edu). Dinner will be provided.

Colloquium 2/14 - Elena Anagnostopoulou

Speaker: Elena Anagnostopoulou (University of Crete)
Title: Decomposing adjectival/ stative passives
Time: Friday February 14th, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-141

This talk argues for a decomposition analysis of different types of adjectival/stative passives in terms of the following domains (Kratzer 1996, Marantz 2001, Alexiadou, Anagnostopoulou & Schäfer 2006, forthcoming, Ramchand 2010 and others):

(1) [VoiceP [vP [ResultP ]]]

I focus on the distribution of Voice in adjectival/stative passives. Three views have been expressed in the literature:

a) Adjectival/stative passives never contain Voice (Kratzer 1994, 1996, Embick 2004).

b) Adjectival/stative passives sometimes contain Voice (Anagnostopoulou 2003).

c) Adjectival/stative passives always contain Voice (McIntyre 2013, Bruening to appear).

The diagnostics I employ for Voice are by-phrases, instruments, agent-oriented and manner adverbs and crucially not the Disjointness Restriction (Kratzer 1994 building on Baker, Johnson & Roberts 1989), which is linked to the type of passive hidden in the structure (passive vs. middle; Spathas, Alexiadou & Schäfer 2013, Alexiadou, Anagnostopoulou & Schäfer, forthcoming).

On the basis of these diagnostics, I argue that stative passives may contain Voice in all languages under investigation, and parametrization in the properties of Voice should be traced to the nature of the underlying event: specific event (Greek, Russian, Swedish; Anagnostopoulou 2003, Paslawska & von Stechow 2003, Larsson 2009) or event kind (English, German; Gehrke 2011).

I furthermore argue that Kratzer’s (2000) resultant state vs. target state dichotomy is important for understanding the distribution of Voice and, more generally, for understanding the properties and architecture of stative passives within and across languages. The stativizing morpheme may embed Voice only in resultant state adjectival passives and not in target state adjectival passives (Anagnostopoulou 2003). In target state adjectival passives, Voice, when present, is necessarily external to the stativized vP. I present evidence from verb classes in favor of the claim that target state passives systematically lack Voice and offer a potential reason for why Voice is absent in target state passives based on a phenomenon of coercion of participles formed by manner verbs from resultant-/manner to target-state/result readings. This phenomenon has implications for our understanding of “manners”, “results” and the “manner-result complementarity hypothesis” (Rappaport Hovav & Levin 1998, 2008 and related literature).